Friday, 25 January 2013

Flying on the IL76 from Baku to Aqaba....Part 2.


Mounted on the overhead panel drooped a colour GPS display which contained pre-stored routes, I watched earlier as this was loaded by the captain and although not connected to the autopilot it allowed the two pilots to monitor the route programmed by the navigator.

After SAGIL point our route took us westwards, climbing to the south of the Caucasus mountain range where the safety altitude rose to 17,000 feet. Our VSI (Vertical Speed Indicator) which also displayed TCAS (Traffic Collision Avoidance System) aircraft indicated that we were climbing at a rate of 500 ‘something’ per minute, normally this is calibrated in feet but I guessed on this aircraft it was meters per second. As all the other cockpit indications referred to meters and kilometres per hour, as is the Russian way.

At our initial cruise altitude of 32,000 feet and M0.73 we passed to the north of Azerbaijan’s old capital city of Ganja and the border with Georgia. I excused myself from the cockpit and wandered down to see the navigator. I was met with a welcoming smile whilst he busied himself with the operational flight plan and fuel checks.

Leaning forward over the glass bubble, appearing not unlike a medieval galleon’s figurehead I was mesmerised at the sight of the lights of Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital city. I was privileged to have a view that very few other pilots would have witnessed, I couldn’t work out whether it was like looking into a bizarre fish tank or out of one……..

Making my way back to the cockpit I was invited to sit in the co-pilot’s seat, where for the next ten minutes I tried to understand the information displayed in front of me. My new friends took it in turns to explain as best they could and the mist of uncertainty slowly dissipated. Whilst various crew members plied us with cups of hot tea and pastries. The hospitality was almost humbling, I had never felt so welcomed in another crew’s ‘office’.

The artificial horizon in every aircraft I have ever flown had a horizon which moved both up and down to show pitch and left and right to indicate roll, nothing so simple here! A vertical strip in the centre of the device rose up and down and an aircraft symbol moved left and right with a separate indicator alongside indicating the amount of roll and another separate indicator to show yaw. I found this to be very confusing but then that was because I was used to a different system.

Scanning the flightdeck and having watched the crew’s operation of the aircraft made me realise how hard my Azerbaijan colleagues must have worked to make the transition to a whole new concept of flying and operating on the Boeing 747-400 aircraft.

Our route took us into Turkish airspace east of the ancient city of Erzurum which was fortified and expanded by the Roman Empire so many centuries ago, before we turned south towards the Kurdish region of Iraq north of Erbil.

I was now flying over a country which I had spent many hours staring down at when based in Baghdad (See February’s edition of Airways magazine) operating an Iraqi owned Boeing 747-400. Turning onto a south westerly track as we flew by Baghdad, the American Air Traffic Controllers cleared us to descend to 24,000 feet and the crew prepared themselves for the descent, approach and landing into Aqaba’s King Hussein airport.

I have a confession to make……just prior to entering Iraqi airspace I left the flightdeck and slept for almost two hours on the row of seats I spoke about earlier. Hence the history lesson as opposed to aeronautical observations!

With the flight engineer controlling the speed with the thrust levers, the navigator steering the aircraft with the radio operators and ATCs instructions the captain controlled the rate of descent using a pitch control switch on the autopilot unit. Again flying by committee but it worked and appeared to be such a relaxed and easy operation.

We were further cleared to Aqaba’s VOR and the procedural ILS approach to the northerly runway. With the captain flying what appeared to me from my vantage point a perfect continuous descent on the outbound radial and a procedure turn to the left, the flight engineer adjusted the speed and selected the flaps and eventually the landing gear as we turned right and intercepted the localiser.

I would like to add that the entire approach was manually flown using raw data, in other words no sophisticated flight director systems, just good old fashioned skills and I could only imagine how hard I would have had to have worked to achieve the same level of accuracy and smoothness that my captain exhibited.

Looking ahead as we approached the coast I could see the port to the right the Israeli town of Eilat to the left, an airport which I flew into 25 years ago on one of Dan Air’s Boeing 727s,and ahead the beach and swimming pools of the Intercontinental Hotel.

The touchdown was as smooth as the rest of the flight and made me realise the height difference in the flare between the IL 76 and the Boeing 747-400….I have to admit that I did squirm a little in my seat as the rate of descent was arrested at a height much lower than I am used to!

The flight engineer selected reverse thrust and with the captain applying the brakes we turned off of the runway at its northern end for the short taxi to our parking position.

With the engines shut down the circuit breaker switches selected to off, my adventure was over.
All I can say is that I would like to thank the crew who were so hospitable towards me and opened my eyes to a way of operating a large jet aircraft in a manner which I had never seen before.

I have asked to fly on the Antonov 12 next and if I do I shall let you all into my experiences onboard what I would imagine is an equally fascinating aircraft.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Flying on the Ilyushin 76 from Baku to Aqaba....A great flight.

My adventure on the IL76 started when I was advised by my crew scheduler that I was to position to Aqaba in Jordan to start my next series of flights. Though this was met with supressed laughter, why, what was I letting myself in for I wondered? This flight was to be conducted by Silkway, the ‘sister’ company to my own Silkway West, where I am Head of Training for the Boeing fleets.

Silkway operate a fleet of Ilyushin 76 and Antonov 12 cargo aircraft, whereas Silkway West operates Boeing 767-300 and Boeing 747-400 cargo aircraft.

I arrived at the crew briefing centre at Baku’s Heydar Aliyev airport in the early hours of the morning for a medical check and to meet the crew. A medical check is conducted prior to every flight for every crew member by one of the ‘resident’ doctors. This is generally a check of your medical documents, pulse and blood pressure, a requirement under Azerbaijan CAA regulations.

The crew were already assembled working through various documents relating to the pre-flight preparations. First impressions made me realise I was in for an adventure and I was immediately made to feel welcome by one and all.

There were the two pilots, both holding the rank of Captain, the most senior was the fleet’s Chief Pilot, an absolute Gentleman and one who was very proud and justifiably so, of his aviation career.

Pilots love to share their experiences and achievements and this gentleman was no different. He went to great lengths explaining his career, which started before I was born…….and I have been flying for 30 years! His career started on Russian gliders at an aerodrome South of Moscow in the early 1960s. Then progressed through types as diverse as the Antonov 2, now the world’s largest single engine piston aircraft; to the Antonov 12, Boeing 707, Tupolev 154 and his current aircraft type the Ilyushin 76. With him having over 28,000 hours of flight time logged, I knew I was in very experienced hands.

As well as the two pilots there was the Flight Engineer, Radio Operator, Navigator and a couple of Loadmasters. This would be flying by committee I soon realised!

Along with my Boeing 747-400 colleague, who used to be an Ilyushin 76 Captain himself, a gentleman whom was completing his Captain up-grade training with me; we boarded our crew bus for the short journey from our office below the main airport terminal, past the construction site of the futuristic new airport terminal and through the flight-line of aircraft on the eastern side of the airport.

On this flight-line were parked aircraft as diverse as the Antonov 12, a four propeller engined cargo aircraft. Modern Airbus 320 and Boeing 757 passenger aircraft belonging to Azal Airlines the national carrier of Azerbaijan who had just taken delivery of their first Airbus 340-500 all of which were also awaiting their crew’s arrival.

The most interesting type illuminated under the glare of the floodlights was a lone Beriev Be-200 amphibious aircraft, parked alongside a Silkway Ilyushin 76 and a Tupolev 154, the latter which I believe used to be operated for the transportation of senior political dignitaries.

On arrival at our aircraft we were met by various ground staff, loadmasters, engineers and dispatch personnel. I have flown many aircraft types in my career but none bore any resemblance to the aircraft ahead of me. A high winged four engined jet aircraft likened to a large Bae146 but hopefully much more powerful. A nose which I couldn’t help but associate with the head and mouth of a very large whale and a rear section which could be compared to an early design for the Lockheed C-130 Hercules. Strangely, the design seemed to work and in my opinion she was a fine looking aircraft.

The forward door was open with a functional set of steps which led to the main cargo deck behind the crew compartment; however what attracted my attention  was the whale-like totally glazed lower compartment which now housed the navigator and in the aircraft’s previous life as a military aircraft, the ‘bomb aimer’.

The two forward entry doors, one on either side of the aircraft were hydraulically operated and could be opened during landing to assist in aerodynamic braking when operating on ‘short’ runways; I could only imagine the noise and vibration this would cause!

On climbing aboard with my luggage, which was worthy of an achievement award on its own, I quickly realised that this aircraft could tell some stories. The cargo was loaded and tied down securely, stretching to the rear of the main cargo deck where this section could be opened and a ramp lowered for ease of on and offload both when airborne or on the ground.

Overhead there seemed to be a series of winches and pulleys which seemed to be more suited to a freighter sailing the seven seas, amongst which were located various pipes and tubes which could have come from a World War 2 submarine. The smells permeating this area consisted of grease, jet fuel, sweat, adrenalin and adventure; this was a real aircraft no hint of air freshener or cabin crew perfume; yes this would definitely be an adventure for me too and I couldn’t wait!

I was given a brief tour, shown the galley which consisted of a sink, water bottles and catering boxes; then the toilet facilities which I decided I wouldn’t need to visit on this flight……Then led to a recess behind the navigator’s station where I could stow my luggage.

I couldn’t help myself and had a peek inside the lower forward ‘glass bubble’ and was amazed at the myriad of equipment, some I recognised and some which were completely alien but they were all of dimensions which would not be found on a modern flight-deck. There was a device which resembled a checkout till from a supermarket but which was in-fact a rudimentary Flight Management Computer, programmed by the navigator for the route which they were to fly. This I believe was directly linked to the aircraft’s autopilot system whose controls could be found in the cockpit to the right of the Captain’s seat. There were also gauges for the fuel system and a series of large pieces of equipment located forward and overhead, all inscribed in Cyrillic writing, which were now no longer functional as they harked back to the days when this was again a military aircraft.

I was told that there were so many pieces of old military equipment onboard that should they be removed the loss of weight would have a detrimental effect to the ‘balance’ of the aircraft, so it was deemed better to accept the weight penalty and keep them onboard.

Down here the navigator was directly connected to the flight deck through the aircraft’s intercom system and he had his own headset to facilitate this. To the side of his seat he also had access to all the required Jeppesen maps and charts.

Turning around and trying not to bang my head or legs on the aircraft’s metal structure I climbed up a series of metal steps and entered the crew compartment located behind the flightdeck. There was a table and a row of three seats, which would later be a perfect location for off duty crews to drink coffee and play cards. I decided to stay here out of the way, whilst the operating crew settled themselves in and liaised with the groundstaff, there was a lot of activity going on all conducted in the local Azeri language and what seemed not to dissimilar to a rush for the best seats!

In the rear of the flight deck and on the right hand side sat the radio operator with his own equipment panel, to his left sat the flight engineer whose own panel was located on the rear flightdeck bulkhead and also on a panel located directly behind the captain’s lefthand seat. The rear panel was explained to me as housing the Russian equivalent of circuit breakers but were in fact on/off switches protected by movable Perspex panels.

With all the pre-flight preparations completed I was invited to sit on the jump-seat located behind the captain, I searched for my harness and realised that this fell under the options not taken up section of the aircraft flight manual, no problem!

With little formality the captain spoke to the ground-crew and the pushback commenced. The flight engineer leant over me selected switches which I assumed related to the fuel system and then using selectors located in a covered box on the overhead panel started all four engines in turn. It appeared to me that the entire start sequence was actioned by him, with just the pilot’s monitoring his actions and the indications displayed on the round dial engine gauges located between the pilots on the forward instrument panel.

With engines started and the various switches set to their correct positions, the radio operator contacted the Baku ground controller and requested taxi clearance. With clearance granted to taxi via the inner taxiway, designated as route 8 we were to join the main taxiway at intersection H for runway 36’s holding point on taxiway A.

The flight engineer advanced the thrust levers whilst the captain steered by using a tiller located amongst various equipment and switches on his left side. It seemed that the flight engineer was also responsible for selecting the necessary engine power during taxi procedures, as well as selecting the flaps to the required setting for take-off. With a quick check of the brakes by the captain we were soon turning onto the main taxiway and reached the runway’s holding point. With the radio operator changing to Baku’s tower frequency we were cleared to line up on the runway.

With all checks completed we were given take-off clearance and the flight engineer advanced the thrust levers, after what seemed like 30-40 seconds the captain released the brakes, stable engine thrust had been confirmed and the flight engineer advanced the thrust levers to take-off power.

Forty five seconds later the captain eased back on the control column and we were airborne. I could only imagine the view which the navigator must have had, located in the forward glass bubble as the runway centreline lights disappeared under his seat to be replaced by the street lights and houses below. Not akin to a Disneyesque fairground ride I surmised, especially when we started to turn towards our initial fix of SAGIL and a climb restriction of FL90 or above, due to terrain.

My adventure had started and already I had what seemed like a thousand questions to ask.

Part 2 to follow soon!

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to you all.

My next post will be about my flight from Baku to Aqaba, with some fabulous photos.......On the IL76 what a blast!

For those of us who like to be hands on whilst flying......disregard this this was all about flying by 'committee'.....Fabulous fun with some really nice and interesting characters.

The Captain had 28,000 hours and was one of the nicest gentlemen you could hope to meet on the flightdeck....of any aircraft.

Ethiopian Airlines selection procedure, from the horses mouth!



From the horse’s mouth, a veteran of many an interview/selection process, from Europe to Asia to Africa and many points in between. Thirty years in aviation and 17,000 hours as an airline pilot, allows me to speak with some authority on my analysis of the Ethiopian Airlines selection procedures.

Once a mutually beneficial date has been arranged by your agency through the Ethiopian Airlines Director of Recruitment and Placement Mr Mesay Shiferaw, your point of contact in Addis Ababa; then an E-ticket will be issued for your travel in business class on an Ethiopian Airlines flight from your nearest airport which they serve. Business class lounge access is provided where available.

On arrival at Addis Ababa in the immigration hall can be found a bank where you can change foreign currency for the local currency, the Ethiopian Birr. I changed £40 and probably only spent £5 worth of local currency. Following the most cursory of immigration procedures, collection of checked in luggage is hassle free, and on exiting the arrivals hall, you’ll be met by a member of the Riviera Hotel’s staff, who speaks excellent English and liaises between the hotel, Ethiopian Airlines and yourself.

The drive in the hotel’s shuttle bus, of which you have sole use it seems, takes about 15 minutes along a highway festooned with donkeys, goats and the everyday African folk who live along the kerb. On arrival at the hotel, a tip of $1 was gratefully received by my driver, and check in procedures took just a couple of minutes. Your driver will advise you of your itinerary for the next day.

The hotel room is reached by a serviceable lift, though I am not sure of its backup power source during the many frequent power outages. Each floor has its own Wi-Fi routers, and I had no problem receiving a wireless signal, though compared to western speeds it was very slow, however it was adequate enough for Skype to function. The rooms are of a decent size with a comfortable double bed, television with several western news and movie channels, fridge and separate sitting area. The bathroom fittings are tired but clean and a large bath with plenty of hot water available.

On the hotel’s ground floor is a bar selling bottled water, western and local beers, approximately £1 for a decent sized bottle of their local beer. Widescreen TV seemed to be constantly showing live Premier League football and International cricket matches. Although you can smoke in the bar, almost none of the local patrons did. The smallish but clean restaurant serves a buffet lunch of salads, rice and several meat dishes. In the evening the dinner buffet is complemented by an a-la-carte menu with several choices of western food, including pastas and pizzas. If you choose to have bottled water or soft drinks then there is nothing to pay. Ethiopian Airlines pays for all meals and soft drinks, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Hence why I spent almost nothing, however, it is suggested to go easy at dinner and to skip the following breakfast as your first challenge the next day is a comprehensive medical.


The shuttle bus was waiting for me at 0745 to take me to the Ethiopian Airlines Headquarters for the 15 minute drive to where the medical centre, simulator complex and administrative offices are all located each within walking distance of each other.

You are directed to a small nurses/secretarial station in the reception area, where several forms are to be filled in on basic medical history and you are told to take these when completed to the lab, which is a small room located just off of the reception area. Here you give a urine sample and two phials of blood are taken from syringes which come straight out of sealed packaging.

Next port of call was a chest x-ray followed by an ECG which seems to be temperature sensitive, as the nurse covered me in a blanket as she said the readings are better if you’re warmer, a new concept to me. Now came the hearing test in a ‘not quite’ sound proof room which I suspect was not functioning correctly as I am high tone deaf, yet apparently I didn’t miss a note. The eyesight check was as you would expect and I wear bi-focal glasses which was perfectly fine for them.

The scales are not very accurate which weigh you, if you’re not happy, repeat; I lost three kilos on my second weighing! Your blood pressure is measured in the conventional manner and now you are finished, almost.

On cue my driver was there to take me into Addis Ababa where I was escorted to the company tailor’s where I was measured for my uniform back to the hotel for two hours where I could relax and have lunch, before meeting the doctor for a chat about the medical results.

With lunch completed you return to the airline’s medical centre, the interview with the doctor is very straight forward and light hearted. You are given an Ethiopian Class 1 medical certificate and sent back to the reception area.

Here you are met by a very charming lady, Meseret Yesera who is Mesay Shiferaw’s deputy in the recruitment section. I was advised that I would now have my simulator assessment and my interview tomorrow morning. She led me through the simulator centre’s minimal security and introduced me to an elderly gentleman who was my check pilot. He led me into a standard type briefing office and here I met my stand in co-pilot. After a brief, yet extremely friendly and laid back chit chat about my flying history my briefing started. We would start in Djibouti, though sometimes Addis Ababa is used, and performance was calculated by the co-pilot by using the Boeing laptop, one of which is issued to all pilots.

On arrival at the aircraft I found it was unpowered, all pre-flight scans and switch settings were to be completed by the co-pilot. The ATIS was giving weather below CAT 1 minimums and my declaring a take-off alternate appeared to confuse proceedings, so I decided to keep it simple.

Using my S.O.Ps we completed all normal checklists and briefings and started the engines where there were no faults programmed. After a short taxi out we were repositioned at the end of R/W27 for a simple departure to the south west. LNAV and VNAV are available as is the flight director, autopilot and auto-throttle. A normal take-off with a climb to 8,000 feet and then a series of stalls in the clean and landing configuration, though I found that I wasn’t really sure what was wanted of me by my check pilot, but this didn’t prove to be much of an issue. Next came two 45’ steep turns and radar vectors for a normal ILS approach and landing, with a cloud base just above minimums on R/W27 at Djibouti again.

With no change to the weather we took off again and an engine failed at V1, having identified that it was just an engine run down we climbed out and told to maintain runway heading. I had terrain selected on my ND and could see that high ground was directly on our flight path and requested a left turn away from this threat, which was duly granted. With the relevant checklists completed we were radar vectored back for an ILS approach onto R/W 27, the weather was broadcast as being on our CAT 1 limits. On base leg the autopilot ‘failed’ and a manual approach and missed approach following the standard missed approach profile was completed. We were now repositioned to a ten mile final in CAVOK conditions and a 10 knot crosswind for a one engine inoperative ILS approach (flight director still available) and landing, taxiing off the runway the detail was finished.

No debrief, just an exchange of pleasantries. I suppose we were in the simulator for almost an hour, and it was a very gentle and friendly session with two really nice people.

I was met back at the security desk by Meseret Yesera who had already called the hotel shuttle bus to take me back to the hotel, my day was finished and I was told that my interview would be at 1000 the following morning.



On arrival at the administration office I met Mesay Shiferaw who just wanted to know when I could start. They ideally like you to stay on after screening to complete their training process; however this did not fit into my schedule.

Meseret took me to the Chief Pilot’s office and after introductions the interview started. My licence was thoroughly examined as were my log books, this took almost ten minutes and was conducted in silence. Next came a detailed cross examination of my career to date; I have to say it was a rather unpleasant affair, mainly due to the Chief Pilot’s interview technique though this could also be partly due to the language problem. I found that after giving an answer to all the standard interview questions I would be asked to expand on my answer and then expand again, often to the point where I had nothing further to add, which I found rather exasperating. Several of the questions would be asked two or three times which I found quite odd and these were taken off of a sheet of paper on the Chief Pilot’s desk.

However, after an hour and a quarter, the interview was brought to a close and I was again asked when I could start. I personally think that it was a combination of poor interview technique and language difficulties which made the interview an unpleasant affair, because the Chief Pilot afterwards came across as a reasonably amenable gentleman.


Having spent the remainder of the day back at the hotel, it was time to leave for the seven hour return flight to London. I allowed myself a 15 minute transit to the airport and an arrival there of two hours prior to departure which turned out to be sufficient. Very easy check in was followed by immigration, make sure you complete the simple departure form (a plentiful supply can be found easily in the departure hall) prior to reaching the immigration desk. Travelling in business class meant that you can use the Fast Track line. From entering the terminal to walking into the duty free hall took a maximum of twenty minutes. The business class lounge can be easily found in the departure hall, is comfortable with a good selection of drinks and a few snacks, plus free Wi-Fi.


All in all the three days ran like clockwork. Everybody I met was friendly, courteous and helpful. I spent about £5 on bottled beer and water, and £1 on having a shirt laundered and ironed. Everything else was paid for by Ethiopian Airlines.

So Ethiopia and Addis Ababa might sound like the back of beyond or the end of the earth. But if you want a contract which allows you to commute in business class on an excellent route network; a country where the cost of living means that you can comfortably live within your accommodation package and not touch your tax free salary or per diems. Fly modern well equipped aircraft with naturally friendly colleagues, then you could do far worse, in my opinion.